Frozen or fresh, since the Buitoni scandal, the French shun pizzas in supermarkets

Consumers no longer have confidence. Sales of frozen or fresh pizzas in supermarkets have collapsed since the Buitoni scandal.

The Buitoni affair has damaged consumer confidence. Since the early 2000s, no other health scandal had had such repercussions. The batches of Buitoni pizzas contaminated with E.coli bacteria may have been withdrawn from supermarkets since March, but the French are shying away from the department.

The turnover generated by sales of frozen pizzas in supermarkets collapsed by 34.2% between March 14 and June 19 compared to the previous year, according to data transmitted by Nielsen to BFM Business. Sales of fresh pizzas, no batch of which had yet been contaminated, also suffered, with a drop of 9.4% during this same period. They were on the rise at the start of the year.

Two deceased children

Since February, Public Health France has identified 56 cases of poisoning with E. coli bacteria, linked to the consumption of Buitoni frozen pizzas. Among them, 55 children, two of whom died. Others keep serious sequelae.

The parents of a 12-year-old girl, victim of hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by a contaminated Buitoni pizza, testified on RMC on Monday. Lena has “mental disabilities, lots of memory loss. She doesn’t recognize everyone. She’s lost the equivalent of four years of her life,” her father said.

At the end of March, an inspection by the prefecture and the DGCCRF in the Caudry factory (North), where Buitoni pizzas were produced, revealed serious breaches of hygiene rules. Presence of rodents, food on the floor, employees who do not wash their hands… A judicial investigation was opened on March 22 for “involuntary homicides”, “deception” and “endangering others”.

The images broadcast in the media shocked. But that is not enough to explain the collapse in supermarket sales.

A “deep” and “lasting” crisis

“In my eyes, we are in a deep and lasting crisis,” said Olivier Dauvers, specialist in mass distribution.

“It is not a simple deception, there have been consequences for people. The nature of the product we are talking about is another element, because some carry a more problematic imagination than others. Pizza is a daily and especially family product. This is what children eat. The superposition of these two levels makes this crisis serious,” he adds.

This is also what explains why, unlike Kinder for example, the scandal affects the entire pizza department and not just the Buitoni brand.

Will consumers one day manage to forget this case?

“In the short term, I am very skeptical about the brand’s potential to return to the shelves. In the long term, I don’t know, we work miracles in marketing. But we have to say that distributors have also been victims. , somewhere. They had to throw everything away. If Buitoni’s sales representatives come back tomorrow in front of the mass distribution players, they will not be greeted with flowers”, predicts Olivier Dauvers.

The only comparable example would be, according to him, the scandal of the Tradilège rillettes, sold by Leclerc in the 90s. Contaminated by Listeria, they were responsible for the death of three people and led to four abortions. “Leclerc had made the brand disappear for 10 years, because the Tradilège rillettes had become the rillettes that kill,” says Olivier Dauvers.

Concerning Buitoni, complaints from consumers and victims have been filed all over France. The health center of the Paris prosecutor’s office is in charge of the investigation. Today, more than 70 families are waiting to be heard by the courts. The CEO of Nestlé France, owner of the Buitoni brand, announced in mid-July the creation of a support fund for victims.

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